No matter how much money you make, how many of the finest restaurants you dine in or the amount of airmiles you accrue, there comes a time when you realise that this quality of pleasure only flows so deep. When a certain level of personal or business success has been reached, whereby privileges and luxuries become everyday habits, it’s not unusual for it to trigger an unexpected questioning of oneself and one’s purpose in life. As well as the discovery of all that is available for purchase, clear glimpses of what isn’t begin to filter through and unless we are living lives we utterly adore, it can have a major impact on our feelings and thought processes. This along with the realisation of how incredibly transient a companion happiness can be, leaves some aching for a return of its prodigal father, fulfilment.
When one thinks of fulfilment it is a concept of some stature, the word itself evoking a sense of ultimate peace, a thing which even when a moment has passed, still leaves its weighty imprint on the very slightest of memories. And, when it comes to admitting that success has left you wanting, fulfilment is often the gap yet to be filled, even if you’re at a loss of where to begin. The biggest challenge I’ve witnessed with clients is them allowing themselves to learn that not only is the feeling of fulfilment internal, but so too is the answer to what it will look like for them. For those who find themselves at the unexpected junction of success and fulfilment and not knowing which road to take next, here are some questions that may help to at least get you facing the right way…
What would you do for free?
There comes a time, usually during adolescence when we’re either taught or learn by osmosis that following our passions is not the sure-fire way to living a successful life. The success that is spoken of is often measured in terms of money, opportunity, respect and maybe even our ultimate contentment. Our focus is steered toward what makes sense in the outside world and away from what satisfies our senses in our internal one. What we then do is we focus on the people who are making meagre incomes and living unstable lives doing that thing we love and, we use this as fodder to forge ahead in an alternate direction. Unsurprisingly then, true fulfilment can often be found in or attached to these abandoned passions, the ones you know have followed you around your entire life, mostly ignored but still present like a faithful and patient servant. These passions may even have been disregarded for so long that they’ve turned into a fondness or an occasional nostalgic thought, but chances are they’re still there. Start loosening them by answering the question: In each decade of my life so far, what would I have done everyday, for free, if money and the judgement of others were of no concern? If there is any answer that spans multiple decades, explore it.
List what is missing from your life
Normally not one to promote a focus on the negative aspects of life, this is one of the rare exceptions and an important task. When living a life where we have proven the boundaries to be minimal, finding sources of true happiness or fulfilment is best done by sweeping aside all that is taken for granted anyway. What you then do is write a list of all the emotions, thoughts and experiences which you believe are currently missing from your life. It’s fast, dirty work with no self-censoring and the list is best kept away from any loved ones who may take offence. As you write, don’t question the feasibility of managing your own football club or scuba diving 11 months of the year, just write. Awareness of what fulfilment means to you is the very first step. Think about the following one after that.
If you could change one thing now, that you know will take you closer to fulfilment, what would it be?
This isn’t a question to mull over or to spend an age working out the answer to. This sort of information is not hidden from us, it’s programmed into our unconscious mind and will flow almost immediately. We only think it’s not there because of how practiced and speedily our brains are able to delete and distort feedback, based on what we think is appropriate, possible or fitting. No matter how surprising, write down your answers and then really think about them and their possibilities. Do not dismiss them.
Future pace your life
This is a powerful method of thinking and of clearly receiving information that you find hard to imagine from your current viewpoint. It’s surprisingly easy to do as well, it’s as simple as imagining yourself 20 years in the future, and then turning around to face the past and ask yourself, what is the experience I would have most loved to have? What are the actions that I wish I had tried? Then come back to now and go do those things.
So, there’s this thing. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time, perhaps even a very long time. I’ve been thinking about it, contemplating the various possibilities, the ultimate outcomes. I’ve been excited, ‘moved’ one might say, there has even been a touch of Brontë-esque longing involved. It’s all well and good I told myself, this is natural, this is how people behave when they anticipate wonderful events.
But then something shifted. As the time drew nearer, a strange thing happened this morning. I started to get a little, uh, defensive, even provocative, scouting out a chink in this shiny armour of splendour about to visit my life. I began looking at the situation from a different angle, seeing that actually what I’m about to do is really quite pointless. From a logical perspective – because all life-changing events are driven by logic – it’s not going to amount to much. There’s no way it could, don’t be a fool! In fact, this is gearing up to be one heck of a momentous and disappointing waste of time. Sure, things will go okay for a bit – possibly – but ultimately it’s not going to workout because it can’t. And if it did – on the off-chance – it would present a whole host of different issues, and frankly, I can’t be assed with those either.
And so on. And so forth.
It was at this point, most likely only a couple of minutes into my mental dissent and the symptomatic precocity it manifested, that I realised what I was doing. Even as I dug myself deeper into the hole – a text message here, a little scowl there – I saw I was setting the wheels in motion for that big Trojan horse of self-sabotage. This idea that if I deal with all the crap now, if I own it now, BEFORE it happens, wholly and fully aware, then I am ‘safe’. I am protecting myself from the real and inevitable disappointment that lays waiting. Because it is waiting, right? It has to be. Yes, though I consciously and clearly knew what I was doing, it still took mental brute force to snap out of it. I still wanted to be negative, because it was something I had control over. I still wanted to push people and things away, you know – just get on with it and speed up the impending and guaranteed car wreck.
So this my friends, this is why self-awareness is so key to everything we do. There was a time years ago when I wouldn’t even have recognised my behaviour as self-sabotage. I would have continued on for a lot longer, provoked myself and others, on and on until I got the reaction I needed, the reaction I created. Until I had fulfilled my prophecy and could move on thinking what a close shave I’d had. Phew, thank God I messed that up before it could go wrong!
Now, however, it’s different. Now, it still happens from time to time, but I’m able to catch it very quickly. And more importantly, in that moment I’m able to make a choice about whether I want to stop being a bit of a d*ck to myself and anyone else involved or, if I want to continue. As you can imagine, it’s really hard to continue – because no one likes hanging around with a d*ck, even if it’s yourself. So, if I can offer one piece of advice, should you find yourself repeatedly experiencing disappointment in your life, it’s this:
Listen to your thoughts when something possibly amazing and life changing is about to occur. Watch your behaviour, feel any levels of resistance or assistance you have within you and acknowledge the reality you are actively creating. Ask yourself, what am I protecting myself against, and is that any worse than the outcome of what I am replacing it with, by acting this way?
There is a misconception amongst those eager to ascend the corporate ladder. It is that once you arrive at the top, you will have acquired the majority of experience and knowledge necessary to stand there confidently. That amateur emotions such as nerves, self-doubt or fear of failure will be gradually relegated, along with travelling economy or having to explain every decision you make. Sometimes, the task of removing these personal fears is undertaken consciously from the get-go; courses are sought-out, mentors are found and self-work is done. But what happens to those who skip these classes, not realising they are the key to balance at the height of one’s career? Tori Ufondu discusses the pitfalls of high-ranking CEOs who are not only afraid to take the leap into re-visiting personal lessons not yet learned, but those who are too afraid even to look down.
The first CEO I ever worked with just happened to be drunk and technically, I wasn’t working. I was enjoying a quiet evening out that somehow ended with this highly accomplished man admitting he was waiting to be found out, exhausted by the amount of stress he was under and unsure whether he actually enjoyed the senior role he’d spent 20 years chasing. A married father approaching his mid-forties, the pressure was palpable. And as he folded himself into a taxi at the end of the night, I saw how misguided it is to label someone as successful based solely on their job title. Even more so, if fundamentally they are frightened and unfulfilled.
As the layers of responsibility, accountability and expectation grow, many of the leaders I’ve met have attempted to sever the connection between their professional and personal wiring. They navigate around personal barriers any way they know how, all in the belief that stopping is unacceptable and that everything they need will eventually catch up or fix itself along the way. And for a time this approach works, they reach their summit through stealth and hard work. But there’s a problem. The way you’re truly wired doesn’t disappear, it just lays dormant. Any issues you haven’t taken the time to address and resolve ultimately become woven into that which may one day shake your stability.
Exposing your weakest link
To be a powerful leader it’s certainly not necessary to deal with your fears or faults head-on, let’s be honest. We’ve all known someone in a position of authority, someone at the helm who’s able to produce results but is significantly lacking socially, morally or in some other capacity we consider vital to our own lives. However, to be a powerful human being with expert leadership as one of your many resources, it is necessary to confront any part of your psyche that threatens to undo you. Presentation angst, difficulty building genuine rapport with your team, discomfort with criticism – no matter how small, large or irrational, there is a lesson there. In order to lead from a strong, well-rounded perspective, all dead weight must be checked-in at every rung of the ladder, including the top.
A different sort of investment
For CEOs who spend the majority of their days consumed by strategic, results-oriented and time-critical thinking, the idea of slowing down for self reflection can feel like a backward and futile venture. In these cases the same principles applied to solving business challenges should be considered. This is the best deal you will ever make. Invest the time, the patience. Recognise that understanding personal blockers enables you to work through them in search of solutions and a viable plan of action. Remind yourself that avoiding challenges doesn’t work and that keeping an eye on your weakest link isn’t enough, you need to strengthen it. This opportunity to fortify your position at the top, if indeed it is where you wish to remain, involves interrogating your own core values as you would a company’s, questioning your beliefs as rigorously as newly presented business facts, and examining the presence of any issues that impact performance.
Ask the right questions
It was Voltaire who said “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” So, if failure is the fear you carry, ask yourself whether it’s the concept of failure or the actual reality that you would be unable to deal with. If you’re determined to prove you’re the best at what you do, ask yourself why you need to prove it instead of justdoing it. Even question your reason for scaling the ladder, were you moving towards or away from something?
There are those who will survive for decades, outwardly content with having achieved their professional goal, those for whom a drink before board meetings, stress-filled days and volatile working relationships are perceived as par for the course. I challenge that mindset daily, as well as that way of living. To lead from above you must ironically ask yourself what you require to stay grounded. You must find out which internal resources have been unexercised in favour of external dependencies. And then fix them. All this, for a real shot at professional and personal success.
Top Tips for sticking to your new year’s resolutions
Tip 1: Make goals a reality
When something is important to us we keep a record of it, we write it down, we stick it to the fridge or mark it in our calendar. Get your goal out of your head and into your visible daily life where you can be reminded of its importance.
Tip 2: Be clear
Okay so you want to eat better, great! But how are you going to do it? What will you eat, where won’t you shop, when are your indulgence days, who do you need to tell for support? A goal without a plan is like a map with no words – it makes for a difficult journey.
Tip 3: Create milestones
Goals are rarely realised in one giant leap, so break down the steps along the way. Set reward stages which mark your progress and reinforce determination. If your goal is to save £5K, give yourself a special gift every time you get £500 closer.
Tip 4: Focus on bonus prizes
Keep in mind that the actual attainment of goals is not always the most exciting aspect. Ask yourself why you want the promotion at work, why you want to move house, what will these things enable you to do? For maximum inspiration, pay attention to the outcome of your goals – not just the goals themselves.
Cameron Conaway, also known as the Warrior Poet, is a former MMA fighter, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. While serving as the Poet-in-Residence at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Thailand, Conaway wrote Malaria, Poems, the first full-length book of contemporary poetry about malaria’s impact on the world. He’s a Rotary International End Polio Now “HistoryMaker” and a former Executive Editor at The Good Men Project. He currently serves on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today.
Skype Interview 10.12.14
How important is your work to who you are as an individual?
Cameron: Everything, my entire definition of who I am comes through in the creativity that I show on the page and in my belief that putting words together can inch our world toward justice, and that’s what I believe I’m here to do and that’s what I’m doing.
What’s the main difference between who you are now and who you were 10 years ago?
Cameron: Patience. I would just jump into things, head first and absorb the kinda first thought – best thought lessons you get from that – but in the past 5 years my study of meditation and the time that I spent with Thich Nhat Hanh just allowed me to sort of settle into myself and I don’t feel as rushed and I think as a result my work has been able to take on different layers that I didn’t have 10 years ago, for sure.
Name one man and one woman you would like to know more about?
Cameron: One man, Alan Ginsberg. I have a tattoo on my leg of a quote from him, there’s a continual fascination I have for trying to learn more about him based on the pieces we know. There’s a really great story where he sent the same book to the same reviewer who rejected it 67 straight times – I mean, there’s certain kind of toughness that he had and it sort of gave rise to the Beat generation and the protest movements that I think is so important and we need today. A woman I would like to learn more about is my fiancée Maggie Chesney, we’re getting married in a few weeks, we’ve been engaged for 5 years – we’ve travelled the world. I mean we’ve really travelled the world together and she is a huge part of my life, hopefully if I am able to, you know – see tomorrow is to learn what I can from her and about her.
-Okay. And the quote that you have on your leg – what does it say?
Cameron: I’m gonna have to look at it here! Yeah – it’s about – one minute I wanna make sure I get it right. ‘The only thing that can change the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.’ And it’s important to me because I feel like in this age of, you know flashy tech and quick fixes – we’ve sort of lost a bit of our awareness with nature and ourselves.
Books or movies? Can kinda guess but..
Cameron: Except – I’m gonna drop this… Les Mis, the Le Mis book, is a hot mess in my opinion – it’s all over the place, so in that sense – I think the movie was able to tease out the best parts of it and do something really cool, so the movie in that sense.
Okay, so there’s exceptions?
What would you say is the difference between masculinity and femininity?
Cameron: Man, the roots are so similar, right? It’s the authenticity, I think it’s the stories we tell – really. It’s the stories that men are told as they grow up and the stories they naturally gravitate towards with other men and they shape their own idea of masculinity based on their stories.
-Okay, and the same for women you would say?
Cameron: Yeah, I would say it’s the same thing – there’s a natural Human tendency to sort of be drawn towards what we perceive is our team – and you know, I think when boys are 11, 12, 13 they recognise their manhood and they recognise sort of their team and they listen to the lessons that come from those who are older and, I think it’s through that process that they’re able to shape their masculinity.
If you had to choose between accomplishing your dreams – all of them – or living an extra 5 years with a few dreams outstanding – which would you choose and why?
Cameron: Let’s do the five years!
Cameron: Yeah! I mean, imagine how much more you would learn in 5 years more on the Earth, how your relationships would deepen, what you would see – I’ll take it, i’ll take the 5 years.
-Okay, so your willing to let some dreams go for the extra time?
Cameron: Yes – pending good health, can we put a little asterisk?!
Cameron: If it’s 5 years of dying then maybe not.
The worst job you’ve ever had?
Cameron: Flipping burgers at McDonalds, noooo doubt. The grease just hangs in the air and it fills your pores and your break out and it’s just a hot mess. McDonalds.
–Okay, and that was a long time ago I take it?
Cameron: Yeah, about a decade ago.
What’s the best professional decision you’ve ever made?
Cameron: Going to Thailand. It was a really tough decision, being from a small town in Altoona, Pennsylvania – where nobody really leaves, but it expanded my perspective on things that I didn’t feel like I needed expansion on. And to be able to do that with my best friend by my side was pretty awesome.
-And why did you go?
Cameron: I was sort of a burn out teacher – my fiancée was too and we, every Sunday we would meet at a Thai restaurant and you know she was working 24 hours a day at a school for kids with learning disabilities – and yeah we were just kinda burned out. We were living in Virginia and I looked up at her during our lunch and her eyes filled with tears, and I said “Honey what’s going on, are you okay?” and she said “I know what my next step is, I wanna – I wanna teach abroad” and looked around and you know – there’s the Buddha, the elephants and she said “Thailand?” and then she looked at me – you know, this beautiful blank stare and said “Are you coming with me?” and I had wanted to go to Thailand since I was a little boy. Their kickboxing is something I’ve wanted to study forever and we researched for a year, sold everything we owned on Craigslist and went for it. It was a huge decision for both of us, professionally.
-And how long were you there for?
Cameron: Almost 3 years, and that’s when I was able to cover modern slavery and trafficking and see what that looks like in Cambodia and Vietnam and it really gave – it changed my sense of self and my sense of what’s really important to actually write about.
Can you grow a house plant?
Cameron: Hell yeah!
Cameron: Maybe not! No – I’ll defer to Maggie on that one, she worked on an organic farm in the Summer, so I’ll take lessons from her.
Finish these sentences:
I feel like my mind, body and life are perfectly aligned when…
Cameron: When I’m sitting on my meditation mat and stilling this world that’s going on around me.
In myself I most value…
-Oh, that’s a new one!
Cameron: You know, it was probably 15 years ago, Evander Holyfield – they asked him “Evander how did you win that last fight, what special training did you take?” and he just said “Consistency is King” – and that’s all he said and he kinda just dropped the mic and walked out! And it’s stuck with me ever since then. It’s not about the new gizmos, it’s not about Eat, Pray, Love and sort of going off on these extremes. It’s about I think, coming back to who you are and just believing that it’s a practice to do that.
My biggest teacher has been…
Cameron: Whoa! So many words to go with on that… Life itself – right? Totally, totally cliche but – the shit that I’ve seen and the shit that I’ve endured and the – the beauty that has sort of unfolded itself – like the lotus – no mud no lotus right? And life is one hell of a teacher.
If you could have one meal, sitting across the table from your 6 year old self, what would you eat and what would you tell him that you know he absolutely needs to hear?
Cameron: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a glass of Richie’s local milk – and that it’s gonna be okay. Six was a tough time for little Cameron – just that, it’s gonna be okay and there are gonna be people that come into your life and support you in unimaginable ways.
So this relates to your childhood and how it’s affected you, the question is: How does being ultra sensitive to moods and gestures and what people are doing around you, help you in your life or your work?
Cameron: Yeah for me it’s what I teach – there’s a big discussion of can you teach someone to be a poet? I believe you absolutely can – you can teach the receptivity, the sensitivity to moods. How it affects my life? I think it – I think it exhausts me a lot. It’s sort of this heightened awareness but it’s also the reason why I’ve been able to have such deep and close friendships – so of course I wouldn’t trade it. As a writer, it’s where detail comes from, it’s where the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ comes from. And so it’s, it’s a muscle to flex and empathy is hard! We talk about it like oh it’s great! and we make videos about it and show how awesome it is – but it’s actually hard to keep on entering into the lives of others and being attuned to that. But I don’t think there’s any other way, I think that’s sort of what we’re here to do is, be with each other… so that’s the best way to do it.
-And when you say it exhausts you – have you found a way to balance that out and to re-gain that energy?
Cameron: Yeah I mean for me it’s always been sort of balancing out my own physicality. There’s a kind of exhaustion that I’ll feel mentally and emotionally, that I can work out physically on the yoga mat or in the woods or wherever – and if I have some sort of equilibrium with that – it seems, it seems like I can survive better, and I can carry more weight, yeah.
Silence or noise?
Cameron: Yeah! ‘Cos it’s so loud sometimes right? You know with silence you can have voices, you can have images and memory and it’s hard to find that at a Starbucks coffee shop sometimes.
-So what would you say to someone that is uncomfortable or afraid of silence?
Cameron: This is what I talk about with my students, they hate silence! It’s something they view as awkward, they are there scrambling for their phones. It’s, it’s one of the best teachers I think and I don’t think there’s any more radical act than to take silence seriously in the 21st century. We’re sort of the masters of distraction these days and there’s something about silence that shuts that off and allows us to come back into ourselves and be consistent I think with that process – like I mentioned earlier. So you know, every class that I teach at Penn State we start off with ringing the mindfulness bell and we sit in silence! So, I don’t think you have to do it hours a day, but a few minutes a day and you come back into your breath, and you realise wow I actually breathe every day! Yeah, it’s really important.
Your biggest contribution to society so far?
Cameron: I love hard and I work hard to receive love. Yeah, regardless of what I do as a writer I think that’s my biggest contribution.
And what’s the most priceless gift you have ever given yourself?
Cameron: Wow! I would say time to not blame the younger 12 year old me for the abuse that he endured. It took me a while to realise that I needed to gift myself that, but when I did it opened up a whole new part of me and gave me a whole new confidence. Yeah, that would be it.
Name one business or corporation you would take over if you could and what you would do with it?
Cameron: Take over?!
Cameron: At first I’m thinking of the ethical companies but they are already ethical so I wouldn’t take them over. So I would take over Walmart and just radicalise it and make sure that their supply chain does not endorse slavery the way it does right now. So, yeah – we’re going big or we’re going home with that one.
Vegetarian or meat eater?
Cameron: Veg, though I will eat meat on occasion. I’m not the strict vegan.
-Okay, red meat and white meat, or?
Cameron: Sure – yes.
For you, what’s the single most important trait in a potential love match?
Cameron: I would say authenticity again, otherwise you enter into – potential love match that’s an interesting phrasing! Yeah, I think otherwise you enter into that match on a kinda ghostly playing ground, where there’s shapeshifting and uncertainty and possibly lies. I think if you enter into the love match with total realness, as much realness as you can bring to it, it sort of sets the stage for trust and love and respect, and the things that make a long term love match.
And the single most important trait in a potential business partner?
Cameron: That they value the connections of everybody else and everything else around them. That they realise they are not doing it alone, they’re not doing anything alone, nobody has ever done anything alone. Everything is connected and everything matters – the chairs that we sit in that were made by somebody, the roads that we drove on to get to work. And we’re all part of that swirl.
How important is it to keep balance between the mental and the physical parts of yourself?
Cameron: Yeah for me it’s incredibly important. I’m coming from a background as a professional fighter and the reason I was fighting in large part – sure I loved the science of the sport, I really do and I think about it all the time – but I was also fighting to sort of cast off the abuse that I had suffered. So I was entering into the sport with so much anger and I think of sort of trained myself to be better at being angry. So for me personally that balance is huge and if I’m not giving myself silence, if I’m not giving myself space to just feel my feelings, I start to feel those old feelings of anger start to rise up because I think for 10 years I’ve trained them to do so. So for me it’s incredibly important.
-And do you ever think those feelings will disappear completely or is it something that you need to continuously work on?
Cameron: Yeah, I mean you know I’ve sat in on AA meetings and so many of the addicts have told me that they still feel it, even 20 years later. They haven’t used, but they still feel that pull and I think I had trained myself you know – 12 /14 hours a day, to sort of be addicted to anger and use anger and it was my drug. So yeah, I think the seed of that’s always gonna be in me, it’s just how much do I nurture it, or not.
Alcohol or a soft drink?
Cameron: Alcohol – no doubt!
-Okay, any particular tipple?
Cameron: The Craft Beer movement I think is shaping our country in really cool ways. It’s localising some of our food supplies and I think it has so many more health benefits also than – than a soft drink so – I mean beer helped shape our country. Beer – all the way!
Okay, so this question is not on the list but I have a lot of people talk to me about wanting to become more spiritual or more self-aware. A lot of the teachers when you approach them about that sort of thing, they’ll say you need to cut out meat, you need to stop drinking alcohol, you need to meditate X amount of times a day. What would you say to the people that want to hold on to a beer of an evening, or who still want to have a steak, what advice would you give them?
Cameron: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I think, you know Tori, what I was able to learn when I travelled was how Americans rely on prescriptions, we’re obsessed with it. Our education is filled with it, our medical system lives by it and I think it’s infested our religion and our spiritual practices – where we feel the best way too help somebody is to prescribe something for them. So I don’t think you need to cut out meat, I don’t think you need to cut out alcohol. Will you be healthier if you cut out meat? Absolutely. Will the world be better? Absolutely. But I think that’s something to inch towards on your own terms and on your own time. And I think ultimately with awareness you start to piece together the things that are good for the planet and good for the body and – you know, stopping what you’re doing full on and transitioning into something else isn’t typically what works for most people. It’s the consistency of – sort of whittling the log into something that you can hand to a child, into some little toy that you take pride in. It’s the daily decrease I think, as Bruce Lee said
And you spoke about training 12/14 hours a day when you were a fighter – is your discipline when you’re writing similar or are you more at ease with the process?
Cameron: There is no ease I wish there was! I wish I had some ease! No, I think it’s why I’ve – if you could say that I’ve had success as a writer – I think it comes from that athlete mentality. I’ve met so many writers who I feel are light years ahead of me in terms of talent, but they just never developed that gritty, tough work ethic that I developed as a fighter. So, yeah mean I certainly transferred that over to writing – but yeah I don’t feel the ease. Writing for me is still very hard and when I sit down and look at the blank page I think – do I know what the hell I’m doing here? And it’s humbling every time I sit down to write.
When you talk about writing, I get a very strong sense from you that you’re all about justice and making changes to the world. How do you feel you can accomplish that by what you’re doing now?
Cameron: Yeah, so I often think of Dr Martin Luther King who said ‘The arc of the moral of the Universe is long but it bends toward justice’ and I believe and feel that through my study of the history of writing, the history of even just story telling in general which dates back way before writing that, that bend is in large part due to writers. And I think that throughout history writing has been about this idea of waking up by slowing down and returning to the craft on a daily basis, and so I feel like just as a writer I’m contributing towards that bend. And I study writers like Juan Felipe Herrera, Lee Peterson and Ginsberg and Maya Angelou and Galway Kinnell – writers who I think believed in something similar even if they didn’t articulate it in that way. I love protest poetry. Whether it’s a beautiful poem on the page or whether it’s you know – workers striking for better rights and they come up with a little poem about it as they’re marching…
What would you say to someone who is very interested in helping to change the world and learning about new forms of thought and what’s going on culturally – but they’re not too keen on sitting down and reading a book?
Cameron: Yeah, there are a million other ways I think. You just reminded me of a story – there’s a group in Tucson, Arizona called Bens Bells and it was started by this mum who lost her son I believe he was 2 at the time – and she went into this absolute depression for years. And she was at a gas station and – you know that time where you could hold the door for somebody but their kinda far away and you’re like Should I hold it…?! it’s like this awkward kinda moment! – this guy held the door for her during that sort of she was a little bit too far away and he stood there and held the door for her. And she had total break, she just had an absolute breakdown about the, the beauty of humanity and that little moment of holding the door sparked this whole Bens Bells NGO that she has started that is doing beautiful work throughout Arizona. So every step we take is an act of activism, it doesn’t have to be writing it can simply be holding a door. I think the trick however is finding what you’re good at and finding how best to apply that. Whether that’s writing, whether you’re the cashier with the smile on her face all the time or, whatever it is you’re creating the world that you want. The zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it continuation body – so even when we leave this body – they don’t believe so much that there’s an afterlife – but, you continue on in the afterlife in the energy that you gave to other people, your friendship, your smiles, your love, your open heart those things all are part of your continuation body. So, how are people fostering that I think and what skills do you have that you can do that in the best way possible.
Well thank you for that!
Cameron: Tori thank you, that was rapid fire I loved it!
Your answers were different, different to what I expected – so many thanks and I’m sure this will help lots of people who, like I said want to get on the path to making a change – not just for themselves but for the people around them – and I think it’s really key what you say about it doesn’t have to be prescriptive – do what you need to, go at your own pace. So, yeah thank you again.
Cameron: Thank you, Tori do you find that same idea prescription in your own practice as a coach – I mean, I’m just curious about you.
-Yeah, I do. I find a lot of people – they expect a coach to do certain things. So for example, a lot of coaches that I have worked alongside with or spoken to will have sessions that are an hour long, because it’s kinda the done thing. Whereas I’ll have sessions that can be up to 4 / 5 hours long because my belief is that if someone needs help and they have a problem – why is everybody sticking to this one hour time slot? You know?
Cameron: Wow! Yes
-So I try to analyse every stage of my coaching. What does this person need, what can we do differently to help that person? As opposed to, this is how I work and you need to fit in with that.
Cameron: I think it’s so brilliant even that you had the insight to question that. You know I think there’s probably counsellors and coaches that have worked 60 years and they’ve just always clocked in – in one hour increments and never really thought about why – you know?!
-Yeah for me, I think when I interviewed Preston Smiles one of the things he said was “question everything”. I really believe that if you are going to change the world, you have to start by questioning what you’re doing every single day. It might be why am I buying this brand of milk?Why am I buying this brand of bread? It can be really small things but once you become aware of different movements and the decisions that you’re making on a daily basis – that’s when the bigger changes are allowed to happen.
Cameron: Wow that is beautiful. Well let me know how I best can help you of course and I’m glad this happened. I’m glad we circled back and made this happen.
-Yeah – and thank you – thank you so much – and I will send you the link once it’s live – and hopefully we will talk again, soon.
It’s surprising, how in the age of communication, connectedness and hyper-accessibility, people in relationships still play the guessing game. We still attempt to communicate by omission, sometimes for brevity’s sake, other times through comfort or laziness. It’s the assumption that we don’t need to say what we’re thinking, what emotional state we’re in or why we’re behaving a particular way, because the other person should know. We would rather spend our time with the fall-out conversations that begin ‘We’ve been together X amount of years, I shouldn’t have to spell this out’ or ‘You’re supposed to get me’. When we expect those closest to us to know full-time what we mean or how something will make us feel, we are giving them less help and support in the act than we would a stranger. But ironically, we’ll still go toe-to-toe and argue like a lover when it goes wrong.
It’s rewarding to get to the blissful stage of a relationship or friendship where words are transcended, replaced by knowing glances and clipped sentences, it’s beautiful – but speech is more constructive. With so much time spent on innuendo, smart talking, double-talking and the sarcasm that saturates our TV shows, couples forget that the most helpful information is often the simplest. Plain words and direct questions, asked with the agenda only of gaining further knowledge of what we need to know. We need to be clear, even when we’re tired or frustrated, because it’s usually in these times that the telepathy we’ve nurtured loses its signal.
A useful exercise can be to actually sit down with your partner – no TV, iPad, Phones – and ask them some straight-forward questions, based on good, fun or tough things you want to know. Practicing clear, emotionally uncharged communication is a necessity if it has flown the relationship or is taken for granted. The only rule, is that answers begin with ‘I’ and not the accusatory ‘you make me’ or the detached ‘it makes me’. Revisiting the answers from time to time can be a real wake up call and a reminder that being unambiguous tears down a lot of unnecessary communication barriers. You may be surprised at the things you thought you know but actually don’t.
Do you know your partner’s answers to these?
The good stuff:
How do you feel when…
I am affectionate with you in front of your friends
I have lived intimately with someone who suffers from mania. Onsets would emerge with an almost audible buzzing, detectable only by those familiar with his other day-to-day vibrations. Behaviour would change from a temperate desire to keep everything in its place, to devastating the house in an 8 hour blitz of – what looked like – utter chaos. I would leave to run errands, and return hours later to find floorboards invisible beneath ‘stuff’. Stuff I had not seen in months, sometimes ever. Watching him, his physical body, being led by an invasion of something alien into his mind, was like watching a butterfly repeatedly metamorphose – but only occasionally emerge as something more beautiful. This massive clear-out and reorganisation was choreographed by him from an almost out-of-body view of what would ‘work’. I could suggest, voice my own ideas, but soon learned that this was not the realm of reason. Not the realm where blocking a window up because it ‘felt’ right could be subject to everyday concerns. The person I knew was no longer there, replaced by someone inconsolably less compassionate, less obviously reachable, less everything I knew and so much more at the same turn. The change and the distance used to frighten me, because I am someone who is adept at reading people, who can sometimes from a mere few minutes of conversation, know your inner make-up better than those who have known you years. Part intuition part skill, I only ignore both if I agree to all possible consequences of doing so. And so it was because I knew this man, that I made the choice to do just that, face the threatening unpredictability. I let myself go and I dived in with him. I got involved as much as I could without either grounding him prematurely or encouraging a spiral further into his vast mind. I knew if interrupted or pushed too hard, the chaos we were both immersed in could last days, if not weeks. Reality here was not a friend, it was a significant hindrance to his recovery. And the flipside to this mania was a place so dark, so bleak, that I am to this day unaware of how he managed to surface – scarred, bruised, exhausted – when it went wrong, time and time again.
I bumped into the mirror image of that person a few weeks ago. Everything, everything about them was similar. I saw it immediately. It was like a physical jolt just meeting them, and I must admit, I stumbled when assessing the situation and defining my role with them. The coach, the compassionate human being, the listener, the friend – all of these things reside within me, but I know the energy needed to fully be of service to this type of challenge, and the first instruction my mind gave me was ‘No, you’ve done your time here. You’ve done your time’.
So I didn’t jump in, and nor was it appropriate to do so. I didn’t jump into their world with them, I did the next best thing almost without thinking and definitely without planning to. I opened myself up. I opened myself up fully, and I became the space they needed, the space their rational, reality-bound self could rest and watch from, without fear of becoming lost to what this other invading ‘thing’ within them would have them become entirely. What this person needed was for me to – temporarily – be their presence. A space they could be with, a space they did not in that moment have. I needn’t speak, or understand or even feel their pain, I just had to know it and hold space for the part of that person which needed to remain separate in order to come back from the illness. I had to know – with them and for them – that on some level we were unbreakably connected and that soon, today or tomorrow or next week, we would both be back, in the same space again, all of them and all of me.
I have been taught a valuable lesson by these and other experiences, that even when it appears easier to dive into a person’s grief, suffering, fear – and it can be losing a loved one, depression, a break up – we must instead try to hold a space for the afflicted. Whenever we can, we must resist the urge to immerse ourselves unless it is genuinely for our own growth and healing as much as theirs. Instead, we need to guard a space into which they may either return or grow into – guard it with compassion and care, when they cannot.
“Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference. Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for your convenience, not the caller’s. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river. Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. Don’t major in minor things. Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Learn to say no politely and quickly. Don’t use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved. Don’t waste time grieving over past mistakes. Learn from them and move on. Every person needs to have their moment in the sun, when they raise their arms in victory, knowing that on this day, at this hour, they were at their very best. Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on his death bed, ‘Gee, if I’d only spent more time at the office’. Give people a second chance, but not a third. Judge your success by the degree that you’re enjoying peace, health and love. Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly. Leave everything a little better than you found it. Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life and death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems. Never cut what can be untied. Never overestimate your power to change others. Never underestimate your power to change yourself. Remember that overnight success usually takes about fifteen years. Remember that winners do what losers don’t want to do. Seek opportunity, not security. A boat in harbor is safe, but in time its bottom will rot out. Spend less time worrying who’s right, more time deciding what’s right. Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life. Success is getting what you want. Happiness is liking what you get. The importance of winning is not what we get from it, but what we become because of it. When facing a difficult task, act as though it’s impossible to fail.”
[/dt_quote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]— Jackson Brown Jr.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
This is the sentence of the week. The one small question that my clients and myself will befriend during our waking hours, when it’s all too easy to get caught up in daily routines, habits, expectations – when life easily and unconsciously flows from one commitment or distraction to the next, only slowing intermittently, without pause. In asking this question of ourselves, we aim to re-introduce the inner us back into our own lives.
Imagine you’re walking down a busy street, hundreds of people around you. Don’t just read this, actually imagine it.
Again, imagine you’re walking down a busy street. Hundreds of people around you, all moving in different directions. You notice someone standing still. They’re not playing with their phone or trying to find something in their bag. They’re not lost, they’re not confused. They’re standing still. Amidst people rushing past, all desperate to get to one place or the next, this person is separate from the flood of motion. They are standing still.
What’s your first reaction to this person? Concern, curiosity, amusement? What if this person is looking directly back at you?
Sometimes a pause, for us and for those around us, can be more effective than the most intense efforts of action. We must be this person that stops and looks directly at ourselves. Being still, whether physically, emotionally or mentally, is deeply liberating and entirely within our power. By asking ourselves, in any given moment, Is this acceptable? we’re essentially pausing the unconscious part within us that would usually continue on, regardless. By pausing, we’re questioning the flow of life and taking the time to remember and realign with our own inner tides. And, becoming aware of the present moment allows us to become conscious witness to findings that would otherwise remain masked until a time of reflection, after the moment has passed. Findings, like the thought in our actions, the millisecond decision-making in our impulses, the intention behind our desires.
So it’s why this week I suggest that we, as often as possible, ask ourselves ‘Is this acceptable?’ Not, What is the next best thing I could be doing? or How could I have done that better? but, What I’m doing right now, is this acceptable? Is the food I’m choosing to eat right now, acceptable and aligned with how I want to treat my body? Is the work I am producing the best I can do, right now? Is the level of attention I’m giving to the person talking to me, acceptable for the good, present listener I want to be? If the answer is yes, then continue. If it’s no, then maybe work on that.